How to Parent a Boomerang Kid

Many young adults are moving back home—learn how to adjust

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Becoming a young adult in this day and age does not always equate to living on your own. In fact, more and more young adults are returning home after college after failed attempts to live on their own, or they may have never moved out at all.

Often referred to as the "boomerang generation," this group of young people includes roughly one in three Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census. This means more parents are faced with their adult kids moving home.

Not surprisingly, most parents are not prepared for this new phase in their life and have a host of questions about how to handle the situation. Aside from navigating the basics, there also are concerns about how to handle the finances—especially as many parents approach retirement. 

Causes

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, the trend of adult children moving back home is largely due to the fact that young adults are generally not getting married before the age of 35 as in years past.

The Pew Research Center reports that for the first time in more than 130 years, young adults ages 18 to 34 were more likely to be living at home with their parents rather than with a spouse or partner in their own household.

As far back as the year 1880, living with a spouse was the primary living arrangement for this age group. This peaked in the 1960s when 62 percent of the nation's population ages 18 to 34 were living with a spouse or partner in their own household. Meanwhile, only one in five were still living with their parents.

Interestingly, the peak time for this age group to be living with parents was in 1940 when 35 percent of young adults lived at home. Fast forward to 2014, Pew reports that 32 percent of young adults were living at home.

Delay of Marriage

While there are a variety of factors that contribute to young adults moving back in with parents, the delay of marriage seems to be the biggest reason.

Without two incomes, combined with the rising cost of rent in bigger cities, young adults are finding it hard to establish a home of their own. In fact, the median age for marriage has risen steadily for decades according to Pew. Furthermore, research shows that as many as one in four young adults may never marry.

Even with couples opting for cohabitation, the rates at which young people are living together has also been steadily declining since 1990.

Job Access

Other factors contributing to the boomerang effect include access to jobs, low wages, and even student loan debt.

Young adults today are finding it difficult to find well-paying jobs and as a result, it is difficult for many to make ends meet on their own. Additionally, many young adults are burdened with student loan debts, and they are struggling to make their payments and cover their expenses simultaneously. For this reason, it makes sense for many young adults to move back in with their parents until they can get on their feet. 

Effect on Young Adults

Research suggests that living at home may have some emotional costs for young adults, especially in terms of how they view their life.

Emotional State

For instance, many young adults that do live at home feel they are not living the best possible life, regardless of whether they are unemployed or unmarried. In fact, according to one interview by Gallup, young adults between the ages of 24 and 34 who live with their parents are significantly less likely to "thrive" than young adults of the same age who live on their own.

(In this study, "thriving" is determined by how participants rate their self-esteem on a scale from 0 to 10. This scale is based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. The interviewees were asked to rate their current lives as well as their projected lives in five years.)

Overall Happiness

A previous Gallup research study indicates that young adults who live at home are significantly less likely to be married. They also are less likely to be employed full time, and they often do not have a college education. Since these three characteristics are often related to happiness and how people feel about their lives, it is not surprising that those living at home report less satisfaction with their current life.

Accounting for factors like marriage, employment, and education, as well as comparing young adults living at home with young adults out on their own, researchers found that those living at home indicated they were struggling.

The study concluded that living at home drives down a young adult's overall view of their standing in life. Some psychologists speculate that this view is due to the expectations that young adults have about where they should be in life—in our society, living at home often does not equate with success.

Effect on Parents

When adult children return to their parents' home, they tend to cause a noticeable decline in their parents' quality of life and overall well-being, according to a study by the London School of Economics (LSE).

Rediscovering Independence

The researchers, who conducted and analyzed data from people over age 50 and their partners in 17 European countries over a period of eight years, found that the parents' quality of life decreased when an adult child moved back to an "empty nest"—this is regardless of the reason for return. They did note that there was no effect on the parents if other children still lived at home.

Researchers speculate that parents rediscover their independence when their children leave the home and that refilling an empty nest may be viewed as a violation.

For instance, when children move out, marital relationships often improve and parents find a new equilibrium. They might greatly enjoy this new stage in their life—they might travel, take up new hobbies, and participate in a variety of activities.

When an adult child moves back in, however, it upsets the new normal. Many parents become frustrated and resentful with the change, even though they love and welcome their children back into the home. 

When conducting the research, the scientists looked only at parents up to age 75. The goal was to reduce the chance that returning home was driven by the needs of the parents for support or aid. Additionally, the quality of life measurements that they took involved feelings of control, autonomy, and pleasure in everyday life. 

How to Navigate

When it comes to adult children moving back home, there are several methods you might consider for coping.

Tough Love

Some research suggests that parents do not create too comfortable of an environment for their children. As harsh as this might sound, the last thing you want to do as a parent is make it too comfortable for your child to live at home.

Unless your adult child is moving in to help care for an ill relative, like a grandparent or a spouse, you want to be sure you help them develop a plan to be on their own.

Make an Agreement

One suggestion is to devise a written agreement that everyone will abide by. Included in the plan should be goals for the young adult, financial expectations, responsibilities, household rules, and a date when the child should be ready to move out. Not addressing these issues only creates a scenario where the young adult may never become motivated to leave. 

When establishing an agreement between you and your young adult, it is first important to remember that your child is no longer a child, but an adult.

Consequently, it is important that they are expected to behave like an adult in your home and that you treat them like an adult. In other words, you should expect your adult child to contribute and help run the household. Clearly, every family is different. Be sure to discuss any rules and expectations up front.

Have an Honest Discussion

Talk about how you envision this working and allow your young adult to express ideas, too. You also might want to discuss whether or not the living arrangement is for a set period of time or open-ended. Ideally, you will set a date as a goal for them to be financially independent enough to live independently.

Consider Charging a Nominal Rent

Aside from the fact that your expenses are going to increase with another adult living in the house, charging rent also helps young adults feel like they are contributing something. This can go a long way not only in instilling a sense of responsibility and budgeting skills, but it also can build self-esteem.

For instance, if you have 10 rooms in your home and your young adult is using one, that is 10 percent of your home. As a result, it is fair to charge your young adult 10 percent of the monthly housing costs. These costs might include mortgages, taxes, insurance, and utilities.

Discuss and Agree to Household Duties

You need to establish ahead of time who does the laundry, cleans, and takes out the trash, among other chores. It is not unreasonable to expect your young adult to share in the household duties. Many parents expect that their young adult does their own laundry or contributes to meal preparation, especially if meals are shared.

Establish Some Ground Rules

It is important to have a conversation about the living arrangements. For example, if you do not want your young adult to have any overnight guests, you need to be upfront about that. Likewise, if you expect them to be home by a certain time or call if they are not going to be home, that is acceptable as well. You should not be inconvenienced by anyone coming in and out of the house at all hours. Additionally, they should have the courtesy to let you know when they will not be home.

Resist the Urge to Bail Them Out

Most parents make a mistake by financially bailing out their young adults. Doing so does not teach them how to manage their money or make sacrifices. As a result, you should not co-sign their credit cards or pay off their debts.

Instead, help them set some financial goals including a developing a plan to pay down debt and establishing a budget. You want to be sure you are teaching your child to become a responsible adult.

A Word From Verywell

The likelihood that your young adult will move back home at some point is particularly high, especially if marriage rates remain low and the job market remains challenging. Consequently, it is important that you are prepared for this situation and know how to handle it. Putting a plan into place and motivating your young adults to work toward their goals will create the best results.

When parents allow their adult children to remain idle in their home, they are only hindering their growth, development, and eventual independence. As hard as it might seem at first, you are doing the right thing when you set some rules for this new living arrangement. Don't fall into the trap of feeling guilty. Pushing your adult child toward the door is what's best for everyone.

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